Last May when we first heard the Brooklyn Night Bazaar was being evicted so that its Greenpoint warehouse could be rented by BMW, everyone kind of assumed the waterfront was getting its own car dealership. Sure, it seemed unlikely a few years ago that there’d be a booming market for luxury cars anywhere near the L train, but then again stranger things have happened under gentrification. ($100 golden doughnut, anyone?)
But then we got a mysterious invitation to “learn more about the unique design plan, creative offerings and community integration” that BMW is preparing for 29 Norman Avenue. During a tour of the construction site, we learned the space won’t (exactly) be dedicated to selling cars. Instead it’s a gambit to tap into all the “creative energy” gushing around Brooklyn and see if it can give MINI, the speciality car brand owned by BMW, fresh eyes on what the young’uns are plugged into.
The overhaul will turn the 23,000 square-foot warehouse into a hive of design activities, including co-working desk rentals, an accelerator program for startups trying to change cities through technology, a design academy, and a small MINI design studio. There’ll be a big restaurant at the front (with, we’re told, affordable prices) and an open public work space where anyone can come plop down on modular furniture and use the wifi (or gaze up at a periscope view of the skyline planned for the rooftop). A design store will pique inspiration, a gallery will offer a place for the community to exhibit work, and there’ll be free events and performances programmed for the neighborhood.
It seems MINI (which had a moment back in 2003 with The Italian Job, in case you forgot) is betting that the age-old(-ish) tech mantra “ideas have sex with each other” will rub off in the close quarters, to their eventual benefit. As Nathan Pinsley, the managing director of the project, led us through the space with white wine in hand and careful not to lead us into puddles or debris-strewn pathways, he told us the collaborative environment was expected to serve as “a pipeline for future innovative ideas that could be part of the business for years to come.”
The new “creative space” isn’t supposed to be overtly BMW-y, though. There won’t really be MINI or BMW branding anywhere to be seen. It’s name is simply A/D/O, for Amalgamated Drawing Office, a subtle homage to the design and engineering office of British Motor Corporation, the original creators of the Mini.
And A/D/O hopes to blend in with its new surroundings, not rudely shake it up. The re-design team, from Brooklyn-based nARCHITECTS – will preserve as much of the original warehouse as possible. The graffiti mural outside isn’t going anywhere, and Pinsley pointed out, “SAVE BRICKS” notes sprayed in orange were spotted on the walls.
It’ll be interesting to see the final outcome, expected at the end of summer, and whether it catches on with the neighborhood. When someone asked if A/D/O had been forced to jump through any hoops with the community board, Pinsley said the team hasn’t had much interaction with the community yet. “This is the first time we are talking to anyone in a public way,” he said to the six of us gathered, mostly journalists. “This is a two-way conversation. We’re looking for your input.
But if all goes well, the A/D/O “creative space” model (the first of its kind) may be a keeper for BMW and even other companies. “Who knows, we might find ourselves standing in some other empty space somewhere in the world,” Pinsley said.
For the Brooklyn Night Bazaar, kicked out to make that empty space when the rent was hiked, the story is still continuing — and likely in Greenpoint. Earlier this month one of the owners filed for a liquor license at Polonaise Terrace at 144 Greenpoint Avenue.
It was strange to look down into the white A/D/O mockup of divided-up rooms and co-working spaces and imagine the warehouse as I’d seen it last, almost two years ago. I remember browsing rows of weird craft design stalls in the dimness, listening to a terrible band screeching, eating expensive bites of food truck-esque food. It wasn’t exactly a raw experience — it was “third wave” Brooklyn at best, and not particularly inspiring: Aimless sorta-hipsters with money to burn, roaming around in packs looking for something to do on a Saturday night, gobbling up $12 tacos. But with BMW/MINI’s debut as a semi-public creative space, are we now starting to glimpse the shape of the fourth wave?